Your Smartphone Charger Can Kill You

Buying a cheap charger from a shady retailer can wreak havoc on your devices - and even kill you! Tech Talker explains how to avoid charging fiascos. 

Eric Escobar,
September 12, 2013
Episode #092

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Wall Charger

Wall chargers are more risky because when you plug something into the wall, you're dealing with high voltages and currents that can kill you if they are faulty. A charger you buy from a reputable electronics store will generally meet all of the safety guidelines required in the U.S. Where people get into trouble is when they buy a charger from another country, like China, for the bargain price of $0.99. These are generally look-a-like devices that are not made with any measure of quality. Beware!

Why spend hundreds of dollars on a complex, expensive device and trust it to a $0.99 charger?

If you are set on buying your chargers online, be sure to read reviews, or look at the seller rating. Oftentimes, if you buy something on Amazon you can get a quick assessment as to whether or not the charger or chord is of a good quality. It may seem obvious, but you should stear clear of devices that have reviews with phrases like "shorted out," "smells like smoke," or my personal favorite "caught fire." The reason that many of these chargers are so dangerous is because they use as little wire as possible, and as little insulation as possible.

If you have a thin wire with a lot of electricity running through it, the wire will become extremely hot, which can cause a fire. When the device doesn't have a lot of insulation, the internal wires can touch and cause a short that can be dangerous to you and your device.

The way I look at it, why spend hundreds of dollars on a complex, expensive device and trust it to a $0.99 charger? While I do think many chargers are severely overpriced (I'm talking to you, Apple), for the most part I recommend buying whatever the manufacturer sells to get the optimal quality and safety.

Laptop Chargers

Now a quick word on laptops. Laptop chargers can have different voltages, currents, and polarities. If you don't match all three of these things with your charger, you can cause serious harm to your laptop. Voltage should always be kept the same accross chargers, current can vary by a little bit, and the polarity must absolutely be the same. Polarity is the direction of electricity flow and reversing that on a battery could cause it to explode! Here's a quick way to check the polarity of laptops and their chargers.

With that here are your 3 Quick and Dirty Tips on device chargers:

  1. USB chargers are pretty universal because they have a constant 5v, and are so ubiquitous.
  2. Be careful to read reviews of chargers you're buying online, if in doubt, invest in the manufacturer's charger.
  3. For laptops, you must match polarity and voltage exactly, and keep the current within 1 or 2 amps of the original charger.

Well, that’s it for today! Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post them on Facebook.com/QDTtechtalker.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

Charger image courtesy of Shutterstock.




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